Licensed psychologist Dr. Carrissa Phipps founded Small Victories Wellness Services as a solo practice in 2017. She spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about her entrepreneurial evolution, including transitioning to a group practice and adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NAN PRICE: Did you always intend to own your own business?

DR. CARRISSA PHIPPS: As a first-generation college student and woman, I used to unconsciously feel like entrepreneurship was something that wasn’t for me or something I’d only do in the distant future. When I finished my postdoc in 2017, I moved to Connecticut, where my husband was born and raised. I was job searching while also starting to brainstorm a name for my practice and designing a logo. Initially, I thought I’d maybe have a private practice on the side. I wasn’t ready to take the leap. I kept working on it and, after a few months, I reached a point where I decided to just go for it.

NAN: How did you get started? Did you access any local resources?

CARRISSA: As a first-generation college student, I quickly learned how to figure out how things work and get answers. So, I started fumbling through the process of launching a business, which got me really excited.

Once I came up with the business name, I had a vision of building a team and having a group practice—not just for the sake of growing, but around shared values, which continues to drive our growth. Our shared values are community, social justice, excellence, and courage.

As far as resources, I became connected with the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, which provided a lot of support and networking opportunities. As a therapist, you have this identity that feels very different than your identity as a businessowner. So, even just dipping my toe in and showing up in those spaces was an important part of the process for me.

NAN: Let’s expand on that. You’re a therapist, a business owner, and an entrepreneur.

CARRISSA: In some ways, being a therapist drives my style and my philosophy as an entrepreneur. It also set me up to be self-aware about building a business that’s in alignment with my values and is compassionate. It’s important to me to have a team with specific shared values. And I’m going to walk the talk of those values, not just profess them. I really care about the company culture. For example, even though I’m a small business, I wanted to find a way to provide health insurance for my staff.

It’s also about finding balance as a business owner and having to make business decisions and set clear boundaries. In our field, that comes up a lot with no-shows and late cancellation fees. We’re very committed to being a network that accepts as many insurance plans as possible, but that comes with a lot of challenges, like not being able to have control over our cashflow and not being able to control our rates and our revenue. But that acceptance is really important to our values. So, there’s always a balance there and it can be tricky to navigate.

NAN: How has the pandemic affected your business?

CARRISSA: There has been such a need for mental health resource resources during the pandemic that we’ve grown at a fast pace. We’re getting more than 100 client inquiries a month, sometimes more than we can take on.

Emotionally, it’s been challenging to have a lot of business growth in a time that’s so difficult for many people. For me, what helps is knowing that we’re growing because we’re helping people.

Right now, we’re all fully remote. Fortunately, we offered telehealth before the pandemic began. We were already completely paperless; it was built into our systems. I’ve been very active in the community and politically fighting for access to telehealth because I think it’s always been a tool that increases access to mental healthcare. So, we had a foundation to transition remotely, which helped a bit—not that it wasn’t chaotic, because it definitely was.

As a leader, systems is one of my strengths. Being able to create systems where others can feel supported and understood remotely was something we really had to get good at. We created very clear and interactive virtual training modules on our team intranet, which we used to communicate with and onboard staff in a way that they could really understand the systems, even though they were remote and we weren’t in the room together during training and orientation.

We have multiple locations, which has been a little tricky and I think it’ll continue to be tricky for businesses as more and more have more remote workers and are scaling up. Right now, we’re building remote teams and we’re waiting until they’re a certain size before we seek out additional physical locations. It’s been challenging to figure out how can we market in these new regions when we’re not there physically. That’s a new-ish problem for businesses that are used to typically having physical locations.

NAN: Can you share the biggest lesson you’ve learned along your entrepreneurial journey?

CARRISSA: One big take takeaway is that I want people to know that self-employment is accessible and attainable regardless of your story. All types of people can belong in the entrepreneurial world.

A lot of people had coffee with me and helped connect me with resources that made becoming self-employed and stepping into the private practice attainable. I also made connections with others in group practice who helped me learn how to be an employer with employees. In the field of therapy, it’s in our nature to lift up others. I’ve also experienced that within our field of business owners.

So, it’s really important to me to give back when others reach out to me and aren’t sure where to start. I like to provide guidance, whether it’s directing people to certain Facebook groups or websites with great resources. I’m always happy to take some time and give back in that way.

Another big takeaway is knowing there is support and you can learn as you go. That’s what being an entrepreneur is about, it’s fumbling through as you go and fixing issues as they come up. You don’t have to have it all figured out—and don’t be fooled into thinking those who came before you did!

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